Kingdom Hearts was originally released for the PS2 back in 2002. Over its now 18 year history, Kingdom Hearts has spawned sequels and spinoff games while becoming one of the most popular franchises. The strange union of Final Fantasy and Disney characters has one of the most dedicated fanbases in gaming today.
While no Kingdom Hearts game is truly bad, the series has definitely seen some ups and downs over its history. Some of the games while good from a technical standpoint can do more to muddy the waters of a famously convoluted storyline. But players keep coming back to the franchise for many reasons. As eager fans look forward to the franchise’s future and the inevitable release of Kingdom Hearts 4, it may be a great time to look back at the games in the franchise and where they stack up.
- Kingdom Hearts Unity χ
- Kingdom Hearts Dark Road
- Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
- Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
Square Enix is no stranger to the mobile market, and the Kingdom Hearts franchise is no exception. Games like Kingdom Hearts Unity χ and Kingdom Hearts Dark Road, both available for Android and iOS, reach far back to events that precede the original KH storyline – by hundreds of years in the case of Unity. While both games are successful in their own right, it can be hard to stack them up next to full-fledged console releases and some of the other games released for portable systems. While the events of Kingdom Hearts 3 bring story elements from both games to the forefront, many fans consider these games as filler content and many long-time fans passed on these mobile games.
Being filler content is one of the biggest complaints levied against Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and Re:Coded. 358/2 days tells the story of Roxas up to the events that leave him trapped in a virtual world at the onset of KH2. His adventures with Axel and Xion as members of Organization XIII are fun to play, but the story of the game can be nebulous and very confusing at times. Xion exists as a sort of memory clone of Sora, while Roxas himself is Sora’s Nobody. The story’s focus on events that happened without the presence of Sora and the other heroes of the mainline games, is overall less muddying than other titles in the franchise can be.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded is one of the most forgettable experiences in the franchise for many. Originally released on mobile devices in an episodic format, Re:Coded sees Sora, Goofy, and Donald Duck helping piece together fragments of Jiminy Cricket’s (somehow suddenly) digital journal before Sora loses his memory. The title can be a fun trip down memory lane but is overall forgettable for both mechanics and the storyline.
- Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
- Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was the first game released outside the mainline KH games and is a fun departure from the original in a few ways. Originally released for the GBA, Chain of Memories introduced card-based gameplay that tweaked the action of the original by allowing players to assemble decks of different attacks, spells, items, and assists from other characters. The story, filling the space between KH1 and KH2, Chain of Memories sees Sora, Riku, and even King Mickey exploring Castle Oblivion attempting to prevent the loss of Sora’s memory. Chain of Memories is notable also for its introduction of characters like Organization XIII that would become very important later in the overall story.
Another portable outing, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance released on the 3DS in 2012 and told the story of Sora and Riku as they attempted their Mark of Mastery exam. This exam, introduced in Birth By Sleep, would see the two recognized as full-fledged Keyblade Masters. The two travel to a dream world to, once again, help preserve Sora’s memories against the forces of the Darkness. The game introduced some fun gameplay mechanics that would end up in KH3 like the freeflow movement system that lets the protagonists quickly bound up walls and around the battlefield more swiftly than in previous games. The drawback of the game is that it again introduces new types of enemies outside the Heartless and Nobodies that feel unimportant in the overall story, but in general the game sets the stage for KH3 in a fun way.
The latest release for the franchise is the rhythm-based Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a fun departure from the traditional action-RPG gameplay and another trip down memory lane for long-time fans of the series. The game does introduce some new lore to the already expansive KH world, and shines in adding more depth to Kairi as a character. Melody of Memory is the first spinoff title to be released originally for consoles, and is overall a fun rhythm game.
- Kingdom Hearts
- Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep
- Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
- Kingdom Hearts 3
The original Kingdom Hearts is what started it all, the unlikely mashup of Square Enix and Disney is filled with memorable moments. The introduction of the Heartless, the Keyblade, and the fight between Light and Darkness sets the stage for the rest of the franchise in a grand way. Unique enemy designs stood out to players back in 2002, specifically in boss monsters like the Guard Armor, which helps set player expectations for the rest of one of many players’ favorite games of all time. The core of the KH story begins here before being expanded in later games.
The 2010 PSP adventure Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep serves as the first prequel story, covering events before the original KH. Featuring three versions of the storyline, Birth by Sleep sees protagonists Ventus, Terra, and Aqua set out from The Land of Awakening to battle an outbreak of strange monsters called the Unversed. The game also introduces Xehanort, who would become the series main antagonist and also the original forms of the Heartless Ansem and the Nobody Xemnas. The gameplay was a fun mix of the deck-building aspects of Chain of Memories and expanded on some of the action elements introduced in KH2 like form changes. The story ties directly into the original by seeing Terra gifting the power of the Keyblade to Riku, Aqua to Kairi, and Ventus to Sora. The three friends’ story intertwines with Sora and his friends by the conclusion of KH3.
Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage is both a tongue-in-cheek reference to the sometimes absurd naming conventions in the KH franchise and a direct link between Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 3. KH0.2 is short and serves largely as a tech demo for the visually impressive KH3, but the gameplay is a blast and seeing Aqua in the higher-fidelity is awesome. The short game features some memorable battles between Aqua and a phantom mirror-image of herself and sets the stage for her imprisonment in the Dark World before the events of KH3.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is controversial among many fans but excels in many areas. Firstly the game is absolutely gorgeous. Worlds are much greater in scope than previous games, and the flurry of magic and other effects during combat is stunning. Fun breaks from traditional gameplay like manning a toy battle-mech in the Toy Story world are fun and the Gummi Ship missions are the series’ best. Many fans believe that KH3 dropped the ball in some respects, like the execution of the story’s “conclusion” and some missing fan-favorite characters. But overall KH3 is a great addition to the franchise and does a great job of setting the stage for the series’ future.
- Kingdom Hearts 2
Released in 2005 Kingdom Hearts 2 stands a head above the rest for many fans of the franchise. 15 years later and players still revisit the classic KH2. The sequel improved on almost every aspect of the original game. The game is beautiful even now thanks to an improved cartoon-styled aesthetic. The gameplay is fine-tuned and the introduction of reaction commands, which allow for context-sensitive attacks depending on the enemy, creates some of the series most memorable boss fights. The expansion of the story is handled with extreme care in all but a few places. The sequel is Kingdom Hearts at its peak, and for many fans still sits as the best game in the franchise.